The Buffalo Sabres were the hottest team in the NHL when they carried a 10-game winning streak into Tampa Bay's Amalie Arena on Nov. 29. That distinction has since been earned by Tampa Bay, which won 17 of its previous 19 games entering a game Saturday night in KeyBank Center.
This appeared to be a poorly-timed rematch for the Sabres. They were on the second night of a back-to-back and had allowed far too many scoring chances in 19 games since the streak ended with a loss in Tampa Bay.
Though the Sabres would lose to the Lightning, 5-3, Saturday night, Buffalo again proved capable of trading scoring chances with the league's best. The loss dropped the Sabres' record to 23-16-6 and prevented them from moving into the first wild-card spot.
Steven Stamkos scored the game-winning goal with 5:16 remaining in regulation, and Ryan Callahan added a power-play insurance goal less than four minutes later. Tampa Bay (35-8-2) maintained its lead in the Atlantic Division and has won nine of its last 10 on the road, despite backup goalie Louis Domingue making only his second start since Dec. 10.
The Sabres twice took the lead, only for the Lightning to roar back. Marco Scandella scored the go-ahead goal with 15:35 remaining in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov answered 23 seconds later to tie the score off a turnover by Lawrence Pilut. Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat also scored for Tampa Bay.
Sam Reinhart and Tage Thompson had goals for Buffalo, which failed to score on its three power-play opportunities -- including 33 seconds of a 5-on-3 in the first period -- and got 25 saves from Linus Ullmark in net.
Late elbow: Buffalo had a power play with 6:33 remaining but Jack Eichel was called for elbowing only 22 seconds later. Stamkos would score the game-winning goal moments later.
Opening salvo: The Lightning scored only 26 seconds into the game when Tyler Johnson won an offensive-zone faceoff, Kucherov's shot was blocked and Point shot a loose puck in for his 29th goal of the season. Tampa Bay was 18-2-2 when scoring first this season.
Sam I am: Following an unsuccessful power play, Reinhart tied the score 1-1 when his wrist shot when over Domingue's glove 5:47 into the first period. Reinhart has 10 goals with a career-high 31 assists this season.
Late goal: Coach Phil Housley would have been thrilled if the period ended with a 1-1 tie. However, Zemgus Girgensons' hustle turned into a goal when he skated down the left-wing boards for an odd-man rush and passed over to Thompson, who barely poked the puck past Domingue for a 2-1 lead with 10 seconds left in the first.
Impressive start: The Sabres led in shots (16-6) and shot attempts (27-12) entering the first intermission.
Lightning answer: Despite a flurry of chances in the second period, the Sabres were held scoreless and one mistake resulted in the tying goal. Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev skated past Vladimir Sobotka in the right-wing circle and passed to the slot, where Palat directed the puck over Ullmark's blocker 7:50 into the second period.
Dahlin milestone: With his secondary assist on Reinhart's goal, Rasmus Dahlin became the seventh defenseman in NHL history to reach 20 assists before his 19th birthday, joining Housley, Doug Bodger, Bobby Orr, Jim Benning, Aaron Ekblad and Ray Bourque.
Lineup: Defensemen Matt Hunwick and Nathan Beaulieu, and winger Remi Elie were again healthy scratches. Tampa Bay chose to start Domingue rather than starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, saving the latter for a Sunday night game against the New York Islanders. The Lightning also chose to scratch defenseman Anton Stralman, who is averaging 21:23 per game, for rest.
Prospect watch: Center Matej Pekar, a fourth-round draft pick of the Sabres last June, reportedly suffered a broken collarbone Thursday while playing a game for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. Pekar, an 18-year-old under contract with the Sabres, has 14 goals among 36 points in 33 games for Barrie this season. He played for Czech Republic at the World Junior Championships.
Next: The Sabres will fly to Edmonton on Sunday, where they will play the Oilers on Monday at 9 p.m. Eastern. Buffalo then plays at Calgary on Wednesday and Vancouver on Friday before being idle until after the All-Star Game.